Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Direct Marketing Success Story Pt. 5

JDS: How has today's technology helped you?

Peter: It helps us tremendously. We try to hire the best people no matter where they live. So this requires us to communicate with these employees through online and other technologies that weren't around when I started my business. For example, technology allows us to rapidly communicate ideas, strategies, results, etc. both internally and with our clients, which results in us running our business and our clients' direct response media campaigns more efficiently. New technologies have also enabled us to create a proprietary media-targeting platform that allows us to track, analyze and optimize results in real time, which gives us a leg up on our competitors.

JDS: How have things changed in marketing since you started, and how has it stayed the same? What do you think the future holds for marketing your company?

Peter: There's been a definite shift from offline marketing to online marketing over the last five years. I see the online portion of our marketing efforts continuing to grow. The media industry is undergoing profound changes. There's been a dramatic shift in the way marketers are advertising their products and services over the last 10 years. When I first got into the direct response advertising business it was generally thought to be a medium where people would sell slicers and dicers on late night TV. Today, marketers have seen the way that advertising can be measured on the Internet and now they are looking for this same type of measurement in their offline media, such as TV, radio and print.

In addition, the average tenure of a CMO is now only 23 months and they are under increasing pressure to deliver a ROI from their marketing efforts. So marketers are now looking for the type of measurable advertising programs we can offer through direct response marketing. Koeppel Direct's positioning in the marketplace has also evolved over time. We started off as a direct response television media buying agency. Now we've branched into offering our clients multi-channel direct response media buying, including TV, online, radio, mobile and print, in order to efficiently reach consumers through a wide range of media options available to them in today's more fragmented media environment.

JDS: What are your future goals for your company?

Peter: I feel that we are well positioned to capitalize on the trend of clients demanding more of a return on investment from their marketing expenditures, which should translate into continued growth for Koeppel Direct. However, there will always be new challenges that we will face, such as TiVo's affect on consumers viewing of commercials, Google's impact on the media business and consumers gaining more control over the media they consume. So we are constantly assessing theses challenges and adapting our business strategies to address these types of changes in the marketplace.

JDS: How educated do you think you have to be to start and build a business? Do you think you need a college education to be successful? Or do you think any average person can start and build a business in today's world, if they work hard and are persistent?

Peter: I don't think you necessarily need a college education to be a successful entrepreneur. There are many examples of successful entrepreneurs who didn't attend college or dropped out of college to start their company. Both Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who started Facebook, dropped out of Harvard and Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College. And all three of them are billionaires today. I went back to school to get an MBA because I didn't have a formal business background and I thought it would provide me with the basic business knowledge needed to effectively run a business. I also thought it would allow me to be considered for certain jobs that require that type of degree. A good business education can be helpful, but many people have built great companies without a college degree.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Direct Marketing Success Story Pt. 4

JDS: How did you first start promoting your company?

Peter: Our early growth was primarily through one client, Hair Club. I realized this was a dangerous position to be in, but the client was demanding, which didn't leave us much time to pursue business development.

Based on the strong growth of Hair Club, the owner decided to sell the company and the new owners thought they could save money by forming an in-house agency, so we lost the business. (The in-house agency was eventually shut down, so I guess it didn't end up saving the company money.) That year we made about $40,000 in profit. I decided to invest all that money in an annual ad campaign in a direct response trade industry journal and I was able to negotiate a favorable rate by pre-paying for the advertising in advance. During that year a new prospect responded to the ad in the trade journal. That client ended up being one of our largest clients and spent a substantial amount of money with us over the next three to four years.

JDS: Was there any big break that really got you off the ground?

Peter: Our big break was the opportunity to take over the Hair Club corporate advertising in 1997, based on our performance for their franchisees. At the time we started working with Hair Club they had stopped advertising, so we started from scratch rebuilding their marketing campaign, starting with radio advertising, then we got them back on national cable TV and finally we helped them develop a successful infomercial campaign. We proved ourselves each step along the way and worked closely with the client helping return the company to profitability.

JDS: What was the toughest time you had in your business, and how did you get through it?

Peter: I would say there were three tough periods. First was the start up phase. During that phase, our head media buyer quit because our key client was too demanding and during that period we had to scramble to cover our overhead. The second tough period was the loss of our biggest account when their company was sold. A third tough period was when one of our largest clients ran into legal problems, which forced us to resign that business. I would say that we were resilient in all those situations and never gave up and continued to work hard for our clients and simultaneously pumped up our business development efforts. As a result, we also were able to replace the business we lost and continued to grow. During these difficult times we also learned an important lesson about diversifying our client base, so that the loss of any one account would not seriously impact our business.

JDS: What do you think was/is the key factor that made YOU successful, when so many others have failed in starting and building a business? Were you just lucky?

Peter: I think it was a combination of factors that contributed to our success, including doing something I really liked, never giving up, providing a quality service, employing talented people and aggressively marketing our DRTV company. Luck played a part in the process, but it can only carry you so far. I believe if you work hard. It puts you in a position to be lucky more often than usual.

JDS: If you had to choose between good luck and good instincts, which would it be?

Peter: I would have to say that good instincts played a bigger role in my success than luck. Different instincts come into play as the company developed, but being able to guide the company through the inevitable ups and downs and having a vision and direction for the company has been crucial to our success.

JDS: When you're making business decisions, are you more likely to go with your head or your gut?

Peter: I try to look at all the facts, solicit input from key members of our management team and then go with my gut in making business decisions.

JDS: When do you do your best thinking?

Peter: I tend to do my best thinking in the morning while working out and on weekends. I'm constantly jotting down notes to myself regarding new ideas or information that I want to pass onto our management team.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Direct Marketing Success Story Pt. 3

JDS: How did you get into the "business you're in now"? How did the "Big Idea" come to you?

Peter: I feel that my background working for a diverse range of companies in various marketing positions, including large Fortune 500 companies, a large ad agency, a start up ad agency, combined with my Wharton MBA in marketing, provided me with a strong background for starting and growing my business, Koeppel Direct. When starting my business it wasn't really a big idea that came to me, but more that I liked how direct response advertising allowed companies to measure the ROI from their marketing investments. It was more of a niche area of advertising at the time I started, but I saw firsthand the potential for companies to transform their business utilizing direct response, when I started working on the Hair Club business. Over the course of five years, we were able to help take their business from near bankruptcy, to a high level of profitability. This allowed the owner to sell his business for a high multiple of earnings, and the amount he received for the company greatly exceeded what he had been offered for the company when we first started working with them.

JDS: Did you layout a detailed business plan for it, or was it more a napkin-sized outline?

Peter: I didn't really have a detailed business plan when I started. I liked the direct response business and I saw the potential for growth. I liked the fact that if the client did well you could also do well, so you were really looking out for the client's best interest. In contrast, I had seen brand-advertising agencies spend huge amounts of a client's money, but they couldn't provide their clients with a way to accurately measure the impact of their advertising campaign on sales.

JDS: How did you finance your start up? i.e. Savings, Family, Mortgage, Bank/SBA Loan?

Peter: Fortunately, in the direct response TV business clients pay for their media time in advance, since at the time they tended to be higher risk, start up type businesses. I was able to use the float on the prepayments and the media commissions earned, to initially fund the company. I also put some of my own money into the company and I didn't take a salary for six months, so I could cover the payroll.

JDS: Did you have a detailed spending plan in place for the money you started with? If so, in ballpark percentage terms, how was the money spent; (product/inventory, marketing, employees, tools/equipment, location of operation.) Or was it more, I have this much money to start and I'm going to wing it the best I can?

Peter: I didn't have a detailed spending plan. My strategy was to improve the ROI for the client's I had, which would enable them to increase their advertising spending. I realized early on that the more money they made from their direct response media campaigns, the more money Koeppel Direct would make on media placement. Many of the successful infomercial marketers at the time were hard-core entrepreneurs that were highly demanding and still are today. We always kept in mind that we were spending their money, not a big corporation's money, so it was very important for us to be able to account for every dollar spent and demonstrate how that spending translated into profits for the client. Right from the beginning, I decided we would differentiate ourselves by offering better service, advanced analytics and superior performance, because I knew that was what successful entrepreneurs demanded from their media buying firm.

JDS: As your business progressed, was your growth self-financed through its own success? Or, did you need to raise outside money to grow? If you needed outside capital, how did you get it?

Peter: Our growth has been primarily self-financed. Later in our development, we established a line of credit with our bank, but we rarely have used that line of credit to fund growth.